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U.N. climate agreement clinched after late drama over coal

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November 14, 2021

By Valerie Volcovici, Kate Abnett and William James

GLASGOW (Reuters) – U.N. climate talks ended Saturday with a deal that for the first time targeted fossil fuels as the key driver of global warming, even as coal-reliant countries lobbed last-minute objections.

While the agreement won applause for keeping alive the hope of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, many of the nearly 200 national delegations wished they’d come away with more.

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“If it’s a good negotiation, all the parties are uncomfortable,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said in the final meeting to approve the Glasgow Climate Pact. “And this has been, I think, a good negotiation.”

The two-week conference in Scotland delivered a major win in resolving the rules around carbon markets, but it did little to assuage vulnerable countries’ concerns about long-promised climate financing from rich nations.

The British COP26 president, Alok Sharma, was visibly emotional before banging down his gavel to signal there were no vetoes to the pact, after the talks had extended overtime – and overnight – into Saturday.

There was last-minute drama as India, backed by China and other coal-dependent developing nations, rejected a clause calling for the “phase out” of coal-fired power. After a huddle between the envoys from China, India, the United States and European Union, the clause was hurriedly amended to ask countries to “phase down” their coal use.

India’s environment and climate minister, Bhupender Yadav, said the revision reflected the “national circumstances of emerging economies.”

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“We are becoming the voice of the developing countries,” he told Reuters, saying the pact had “singled out” coal but kept quiet about oil and natural gas.

“We made our effort to make a consensus that is reasonable for developing countries and reasonable for climate justice,” he said, alluding to the fact that rich nations historically have emitted the largest share of greenhouse gases https://graphics.reuters.com/CLIMATE-UN/EMISSIONS/jnvwexaryvw/index.html.

The single-word change was met with dismay by both rich countries in Europe and small island nations along with others still developing.

“We believe we have been side-lined in a non-transparent and non-inclusive process,” Mexico’s envoy Camila Isabel Zepeda Lizama said. “We all have remaining concerns but were told we could not reopen the text … while others can still ask to water down their promises.”

But Mexico and others said they would let the revised agreement stand.

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“The approved texts are a compromise,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today.”

CARBON MARKET BREAKTHROUGH

Reaching a deal was always a matter of balancing the demands of climate-vulnerable nations, big industrial powers, and those like India and China depending on fossil fuels to lift their economies and populations out of poverty.

Sharma’s voice broke with emotion in response to vulnerable nations’ expressing anger over the last-minute changes.

“I apologise for the way this process has unfolded,” he told the assembly. “I am deeply sorry.”

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The overarching aim he had set for the conference was one that climate campaigners and vulnerable countries said was too modest – to “keep alive” the 2015 Paris Agreement’s target to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5C https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/whats-difference-between-15c-2c-global-warming-2021-11-07 (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Scientists say warming beyond this point could unleash irreversible and uncontrollable climate impacts.

In asking nations to set tougher targets by next year for cutting climate-warming emissions, the agreement effectively acknowledged that commitments were still inadequate. National pledges currently have the world on track for about 2.4C https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/world-track-24c-global-warming-after-latest-pledges-analysts-2021-11-09 of warming.

The talks also led to a breakthrough in resolving rules https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/outline-carbon-markets-deal-emerges-un-climate-summit-2021-11-13 for covering government-led markets for carbon offsets. Companies and countries with vast forest cover had pushed hard for a deal, in hopes also of legitimising the fast-growing global voluntary offset markets.

The deal allows countries to partially meet their climate targets by buying offset credits representing emission cuts by others, potentially unlocks trillions of dollars for protecting forests, expanding renewable energy and other projects to combat climate change.

‘THE ERA OF COAL IS ENDING’

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Jennifer Morgan, executive director of the campaign group Greenpeace, saw the glass as half-full.

“They changed a word but they can’t change the signal coming out of this COP, that the era of coal is ending,” she said. “If you’re a coal company executive, this COP saw a bad outcome.”

Developing countries argue rich nations, whose historical emissions are largely responsible for warming the planet, must finance their efforts both to transition away from fossil fuels and to adapt to increasingly severe climate impacts.

The deal offered a promise to double adaptation finance by 2025 from 2019, but again no guarantees. A U.N. committee will report next year on progress towards delivering the $100 billion per year in promised climate funding, after rich nations failed to deliver on a 2020 deadline for the funds. Finance will then be discussed again 2024 and 2026.

But the deal left many vulnerable nations despondent in offering no funding for climate-linked losses and damages https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/vulnerable-states-call-climate-loss-damage-deal-bare-minimum-2021-11-12, a promise made in the original pact https://www.reuters.com/article/climate-un-moments-idAFL1N2RH1XZ called the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.

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Rich nations once again resisted acknowledging financial liability for their years of emissions that drove climate change as they rose to economic prosperity.

While Glasgow agreement laid out a pathway for addressing the issue by establishing a new secretariat dedicated to the issue, vulnerable countries said that represented a bare minimum of acceptability.

“This package is not perfect. The coal change and a weak outcome on loss and damage are blows,” said Tina Stee, climate envoy from the Marshall Islands. Still, “elements of the Glasgow Package are a lifeline for my country. We must not discount the crucial wins covered in this package.”

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Jake Spring, Simon Jessop, Andrea Januta and Richard Valdmanis; Writing by Katy Daigle; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lincoln Feast.)

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Blinken downbeat about nuclear talks as Iran floats proposals

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December 2, 2021

By Parisa Hafezi and Humeyra Pamuk

VIENNA/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -The United States said on Thursday it had little cause for optimism about reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and would know in a day or so if Iran would negotiate in good faith as Tehran put forward fresh proposals.

“I think, in the very near future, the next day or so, we’ll be in a position to judge whether Iran actually intends now to engage in good faith,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Stockholm.

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“I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don’t give us a lot of cause for … optimism. But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course and engage meaningfully,” he added.

Iran has provided European powers who are shuttling between U.S. and Iranian officials with drafts on sanctions removal and nuclear commitments, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said on Thursday, as world powers and Tehran try to reinstate the pact.

The announcement came on the fourth day of indirect talks in Vienna between Iran and the United States on bringing both fully back into the deal, under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S., European Union and U.N. economic sanctions.

The talks resumed on Monday after a five-month hiatus prompted by Iran’s election of an anti-Western hardliner as president.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog on Wednesday said Iran has started producing enriched uranium with advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant dug into a mountain, further eroding the nuclear deal during talks with the West on saving it.

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“What Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks. That will not happen,” Blinken told reporters in Stockholm in a possible reference to that development.

It was unclear whether Blinken had been briefed on the latest proposals by the Iranians when he made his comments.

“We have delivered two proposed drafts to them … Of course they need to check the texts that we have provided to them. If they are ready to continue the talks, we are in Vienna to continue the talks,” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told reporters in the Austrian capital.

A European diplomat in Vienna confirmed draft documents had been handed over.

Under the pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment programme, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy, in exchange for relief from the economic sanctions.

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But in 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh U.S. sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.

“We want all sanctions to be lifted at once,” Bagheri told reporters. He said an Iranian proposal regarding how to verify the removal of sanctions – Tehran’s overriding priority in the talks – would be handed over to the European parties later.

A senior European diplomat estimated on Tuesday that 70-80% of a draft deal on salvaging the 2015 accord was completed when Iran and world powers last met in June, though it remained unclear if Tehran would resume talks where they left off.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Vienna and Humeyra Pamuk in Stockholm; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed;Editing by Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and Marguerita Choy)

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Jailed former paralympic athlete Pistorius moved closer to victim’s family

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December 2, 2021

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Former South Africa paralympic superstar, Oscar Pistorius, jailed in 2016 for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, has been moved closer to her family ahead of reconciliation talks that could help pave the way for his early release from prison.

Pistorius, known as “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fibre prosthetic legs, went from public hero to convicted murderer in a trial that drew worldwide interest. He becomes eligible for parole after serving half of his 13-year sentence.

Pistorius is set to speak to Steenkamp’s parents, June and Barry Steenkamp, in a process known as victim-offender dialogue – an integral part of South Africa’s restorative justice programme in its prison system that brings parties affected by a particular crime together in a bid to achieve closure.

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“They are participating in the process because they have committed themselves to being part of the victim-offender dialogue. They feel they have to do this for Reeva,” Tania Koen, lawyer for the Steenkamps, said of the family.

Pistorius’ lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘SENSITIVE PROCESS’

Gold medalist Pistorius, once the darling of the Paralympic movement for pushing for greater recognition and acceptance of disabled athletes, shot dead Steenkamp, a model and law student, in his bathroom in 2013.

Pistorius said he had believed she was an intruder but was jailed in 2016, initially for a six-year term. After an appeal by prosecutors who said this was too lenient the term was increased to 13 years.

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He has now been moved from a prison near Johannesburg to one on South Africa’s east coast, near where Steenkamp’s parents live.

Neither their lawyer Koen nor Singabakho Nxumalo, a spokesman for the department of correctional services, could provide Reuters with a timeline for the discussions.

“It is very sensitive process, highly emotional… and we do not force people to participate in it,” Nxumalo said.

“But we are saying at least it does lay a foundation where people can, if possible, forgive each other, find one another and then try to move forward in harmony,” he said.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Siyabonga Sishi; editing by Gareth Jones)

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Omicron may soon cause over half of COVID infections in Europe -EU

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December 2, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s public health agency said on Thursday that the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all COVID-19 infections in Europe within a few months.

The estimate could lend weight to preliminary information about the very high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, above that of the Delta variant, which before Omicron was considered the most contagious of the main coronavirus strains.

“Based on mathematical modelling conducted by ECDC, there are indications that Omicron could cause over half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement.

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There is no conclusive evidence about Omicron’s transmissibility so far but the World Health Organization’s lead person on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said on Wednesday the agency expected to have data on this within days.

Europe has so far recorded a few dozens of infections with the Omicron variant, which was first detected in southern Africa last month.

The European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) include the 27 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Earlier on Thursday, the French government’s top scientific adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy said that Omicron could take Delta’s place already by the end of January.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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